THE York Select players who take on York City Knights in this month’s pre-season friendly can put themselves in the shop window to win a contract with the Championship One club.
Opposing coaches Scott Rhodes and Gary Thornton both say the Huntington Stadium match on February 16 offers the amateur players not only a tilt at local bragging rights but also a route into the semi-pro game.
Former Knights captain Rhodes, now the head coach at York Acorn ARLC, is in charge of this year’s Select side and has named a 22-man train-on squad. The bulk of them unsurprisingly come from his own club, the highest ranked of the city’s amateur outfits, although one notable exception is Jack Stearman, currently the New Earswick player-coach and former Knights prop who still works for the Huntington Stadium club’s community development department and would not rule out a return to their playing ranks.
Said Rhodes: “I’ve said to the players it’s a chance to put themselves in the shop window and to say, ‘I played better than him so I should be in there’. Some players aren’t interested in turning pro but some might want to go that bit further in the game.
“My job is to make the match as competitive as possible. We’ve had a few sessions and they’ve been training really well and, although we won’t get much time together before the game, they seem to be taking on board what I’m putting forward to them.
“We’re looking to be competitive, to get stuck in and play with a lot of enthusiasm, and I’m confident we’ll do that. We have some good players who can cause them trouble.”
Knights boss Thornton, who was to watch Acorn’s Challenge Cup tie against Siddal at Thanet Road today (2pm), said new improved links between the Knights and the city’s community clubs means there should be an easier pathway for amateurs to get a trial at Huntington Stadium and likewise for his young fringe players to get game-time by going in the other direction.
Of the upcoming challenge match – which in previous years has brought two wins for the Knights, one for the Select XII and one draw – he said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity to see their skills against ours. It’s almost like a trial game and anyone that shows up well will be considered if we think they could improve our squad.
“For the likes of Jack, for example, it’s an opportunity to see where he is in comparison to our front-rowers. It’s the same with all of the players – we wouldn’t rule anybody out.”
Stearman himself says he is committed to New Earswick but intimated he might like another shot with his home-town pro club once the All Blacks’ winter season is over. He helped the Knights get promoted from Championship One in 2010 with three tries in 18 appearances and played 14 times in the Championship in 2011 but he had only one run-out in 2012 and returned to the amateur game.
Said Stearman: “This game is a shop window not just for me but for anyone who might want a shot with the Knights.
“I remember Carl Barrow (from All Blacks) got picked up by the Knights from this fixture four or five years ago.
“New Earswick is my focus but when those commitments finish it’s something I might look at. It’s a step up but it’s the next progression. The step up to the Championship is a big one. The step to Championship One is not as big. There are plenty of players good enough in the York area to make that step.
“I’ve had conversations with Gary about it. If I do well in this game the opportunity is there – not just for me but for all of us.”
Of the 22-man Select squad, 16 come from Acorn, four from All Blacks and two from Heworth.
Among those who have previously had spells with the Knights are Acorn quartet Adam Endersby, Davey Burns, Andy Gargan and Mike Embleton. Several, such as Leigh Rientoul, Ryan Gallacher and Heworth’s Jonny Payne, have featured for reserve or junior sides.
Select XIII squad
Adam Endersby, Davey Burns, Joe Porter, Jordan Hyde, Joel Johnson, Joe Budd, Arran Thompson, Ryan Gallacher, Leigh Rientoul, Antony Chilton, Nick Speck, Mike Embleton, Martin McTigue, Jordan Myers, Andy Gargan, Matthew Woods (all Acorn); Jonny Payne, Adam Withington (both Heworth), Jack Sinclair, Jack Stearman, Liam Gargan, Jack Carling (all New Earswick).